True wireless has been a catchphrase passed around quite often in the past two to three years, ever since Apple made the bold decision to remove the headphone jack from their smartphones in favour of ushering in their new wireless strategy. While it may have caused initial panic, the gains have been significant, not just for Apple users, but across all platforms and brands.
In addition to the slew of true wireless startups popping up on campaign funding sites, some of which delivered great products to the market, the leading OEMs haven’t simply sat back and let them enjoy the ever-increasing ubiquity of such devices. The likes of B&O, Sennheiser, Jabra, Skullcandy, JBL, Sony and many others have invested quite significantly into the technology across various products with varying degrees of success. And while Apple may be the most synonymous with the true wireless moniker, Samsung has also had a few iterations of their own, Gear Icon-X earbuds.
In 2019, however, at the launch of the Galaxy S10, Samsung released its latest true wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds.
Build and Design
For those familiar with the Icon-X or its predecessor, the IconX, there’s quite a lot of similarities in the design across all three earbuds. But don’t let the first impressions fool you, there has been quite a lot of additional work that has gone into the redesign of the Buds. For starters, each of the earbuds has shed around 30% of its weight, down from 8g each on the Icon-X to just 5.6g on the Buds. Although it doesn’t match that of the AirPods 2 at just 4g, that’s still an impressive reduction off their previous product. Where the Buds have a big advantage over the AirPods is its rubber tips approach. It may not look as sleek, but being able to switch between one of three sizes of rubber tips makes it more flexible in how many people can use it. Apple has come under fire numerous times with the solid mould approach of its one-size-fits-all approach in order favour of aesthetics over function. Over the Icon-X, the Buds have a much sleeker looking wingtips to secure the fit once you’ve chosen the correct tips to use. This slides securely in your ear and provides ease of mind even when going for a run.
There are three colours available for the Buds, black, white and neon yellow. While I can’t see many sales for the latter, the black and white colours are sleek and beautiful. Having received a black unit, it looks great with its mix of matte plastic finish for the majority of the frame, it’s rounded off with a glossy touch control, which gives it a futuristic look. The units carry an IPX2 rating, which means you won’t have to worry about getting the earbuds wet from sweat or rain, but isn’t recommended to be submerged in a body of water when swimming, for example.
As with most true wireless devices, you cannot discuss the earbuds without the case. For most products, you simply won’t be able to use the devices for too long without it, as it forms one of the most important functions, that of charging. The Buds have magnetic contacts on the inner side, which allows it to easily fit into place for charging, while remaining in place while on the move. The case is smaller than the previous version as well, also removing the lock button to make it easier to open and close. There is an LED indicator light on the front, which will turn on when the lid is opened to indicate whether the earbuds are being charged or not. You won’t be able to gauge how much battery capacity is left, however, only realising once the LED no longer lights up.
The units carry an IPX2 rating, which means you won’t have to worry about getting the earbuds wet from sweat or rain…
Compared to the set of five LEDs on the xFyro Aria‘s case, which does a much better job of indicating battery levels. To charge the case itself can be done by means of two methods. The first is the more conventional approach of using the included USB Type-C cable. For the more advanced users, or when you don’t have a power socket in sight, you can simply turn on the reverse charging feature, known as Wireless PowerShare, on the Galaxy S10 or S10+ to wirelessly charge the case. What I find really interesting about the PowerShare feature is that it is also able to charge the AirPods case without too much fuss, something Apple itself doesn’t have an equivalent product for.
Setup and Features
One of the biggest improvements with true wireless phones over the conventional wireless devices has been its ease of setup straight out the box. With many of the devices being housed in a case, the removal of the earbuds and placed into an automatic ‘pairing’ state has helped make things easier. With the Galaxy Buds, things are even easier if you have one of the S10 smartphones. With the Galaxy Wearable app already preinstalled, I was surprised when I unboxed the Buds for the first time, only for it to automatically pair with my S10+ and ready to use without any intervention from my side. In addition to this, the Galaxy Wearable app also opens on your smartphone and prompts you to make your own customisations on how to use the Buds going forward, such as setting up the touch controls.
I was surprised when I unboxed the Buds for the first time, only for it to automatically pair with my S10+ and ready to use without any intervention from my side.
Speaking of the touch controls, they’re set up to have the same functionality on both the left and right-hand sides. This is a bit weird at first, but you soon adjust to the change. Instead, the controls use gestures such as single touch to play/pause, double tap to skip forward and triple tap to skip backwards. The only gesture where the left and right are different is the long-press feature, which increases volume on the right and decreases on the left.
The Galaxy Wearable app also includes additional features such as the equaliser, which has a set of five presets if you don’t want to set this up manually. The presets included are Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear and Treble Boost, which provide specific sound for different situations. The app also allows you to drown out some ambient sounds with a special feature to mix in the sound of the music with the background noise. You’re not going to get full noise-cancellation here, but it definitely helps.
The last feature from the app is the Find My Earbuds options, which starts an alarm on the earbuds to help you find them around the house (or wherever you are). The volume increases over time to something that is audible when simply walking around, which is great. There is, however, a small issue with this, which I’ll touch on with the next feature.
One of the features I quite liked on the Buds is its proximity sensor.
One of the features I quite liked on the Buds is its proximity sensor. This means that each earbud is able to detect when they’re placed in the ear, which is indicated by means of a tone to confirm this. One great benefit of this is battery saving, as you can simply remove the earbuds from your ears and the playback will immediately stop. You also won’t be able to use the touch controls when an earbud is out of the ear. Going back to the Find My Earbuds feature, there is potential that someone is going to hurt their ears by using this feature when one of the earbuds is in the ear. With the proximity sensor in place, it would make sense to disable the alarm on any earbud that’s being used so as not to damage any hearing. Other than this, however, the Buds have a great and well thought out feature set.
Performance and Battery
With the Galaxy Buds, Samsung has made quite big improvements in terms of the audio quality, especially when it comes to fuller sound with more warmth and bass. The biggest change over the Icon-X is the partnership with audio giants, AKG, attributing the improvements. Playing through my playlist, I was happily surprised at the clarity of the audio overall, picking up more sounds across the frequency ranges than many other wireless devices I’ve used in the past. The clarity of the voices was most impressive, which complimented the additional background sounds picked up by the speakers. While the Buds do have great deep bass, it isn’t overwhelming as in other devices that seem to focus on overpowering all other sounds when touting the feature. There are some songs where you can really feel the bass, not quite surging through the body, but nearly as good. The volume levels are also good with no distortion when turned up to the max. They won’t rupture any eardrums at the highest volumes, but they don’t need to and better off for it. All the more impressive was that Samsung and AKG were able to provide the good quality audio without including the aptX codec, which, arguably, could have made for truly impressive sound overall.
When it comes to battery capacity, the earbuds each pack in a 58mAh battery, which provides up to six hours of battery life according to Samsung. Thankfully, I found that I often reached near this mark, roughly 5h30m, which is solid enough. The case adds a further 252mAh of battery capacity, which means an additional 126mAh for each earbud, which should add at least another 12 hours or so of battery life before needing to recharge the case. The battery capacity does align with the reported length of use, but doesn’t quite match up to many other leading true wireless cases we’ve reviewed recently.
Samsung has stepped up its game with its true wireless Galaxy Buds over previous iterations, making a strong case against other variants of the technology on the market. The clear sound with deep bass along with a great feature set makes the Buds a really good buy for any Android smartphone – the device requires at least Android 5.0. If you’re looking for truly great audio, however, there are a handful of devices you can choose from, but not very many.
At a price of R2,999 the Buds aren’t cheap. There’s still a lot of room for improvement with the Buds, even from a software and firmware point of view, which Samsung has improved upon with a very recent upgrade. If you’re looking for a good pair of true wireless earbuds, especially if you didn’t manage to get your hands on a pair when purchasing your S10 smartphone, then the Galaxy Buds are definitely a worthwhile purchase.